A series of random thoughts, in no particular order, that I may one day expand. Until then, have a think about them.
On integration and freedom to be different:
Do we separate different groups, then expect them to come together, or do we bring them together, then let them express their uniqueness in their own ways?
On social classes:
How can we tell a boy that because he was born to a poor man, he would not have access to tertiary education, medical treatment, healthy food, and a house?
On global warming:
How can we save the earth when we are told to buy as many things that our income allows?
How do you tell a manager he will get the same pay as his cleaner?
Everybody's doing it - so aren't they all conforming to being rebels?
There are more obese people than there are starving ones, and we produce enough grain to feed the world 1.5 times over. Why hasn't the problem been solved?
Politicians are civil servants, and every civil servant's job is to serve the people. So why don't they?
They are just like us, but they got left behind on one genre while the rest of us moved on.
On genetic engineering:
When everyone is engineered to look like Christiano Ronaldo and Jessica Alba, who would we get to play movie characters?
If I paid a billion dollars for holes to be dug and filled up again, I would still be contributing to GDP, but would I be doing anything useful?
Quote of the Week
- "This house has been far out at sea all night, |The woods crashing through darkness, the booming hills, |Winds stampeding the fields under the window |Floundering black astride and blinding wet |Till day rose; then under an orange sky |The hills had new places, and wind wielded |Blade-light, luminous black and emerald, |Flexing like the lens of a mad eye." - Ted Hughes, Wind
Sunday, 25 November 2007
A series of random thoughts, in no particular order, that I may one day expand. Until then, have a think about them.
On the eve of the BERSIH march, the government quakes in terror and the people chatter excitedly about a change in the wind. The march was far from ideal, but it greatly raised hopes at a time when morale is in short supply.
However, BERSIH’s demands (even if met) still do not address certain key issues that have been dogging Malaysian politics for a time, chiefly, the ability of the Alternative Front to effectively replace the existing coalition, and clean up its mess at the same time.
One glaring issue is that the opposition camp doesn’t provide a realistic alternative to BN in the long run. People are apprehensive of the fundamentally Islamic PAS, distrustful of the DAP with its leadership passed down from father to son, and confused about the intentions of PKR, itself led by a former UMNO strongman and would-be-Prime Minister. These allies of convenience, each with fundamentally different objectives and party demographics, will likely fall upon each other the moment BN is defeated – and since each party recruits from a particular race, they may just come to resemble UMNO and its sisters the MCA and MIC. We may change the leaders on top, but there is a risk that the existing racism and cronyism will continue to exist.
Of course, there is also the issue of how well the government manages the country, and whether these parties will be able to do so with so much endemic corruption is up to the reader to decide. One thing is for sure, this author does not trust any politician with their hand in the cookie jar to be completely honest. With an anticorruption agency, a police force and a judiciary that have sold themselves to the highest bidders, significant reforms will have to take place before these checks and balances can function effectively again.
There is also the possibility, however remote, that a party or individual from the alternative camp may defect to the BN camp, bringing vital parliamentary seats along with it – which is precisely what happened in 1969. For all its intentions at its formation, Parti Gerakan Rakyat was ultimately reduced by years of cronyism and corruption into becoming just another BN lapdog – a legacy hardly worthy of its good beginnings.
From behind both camps looms the invisible hand of Dr Mahathir – how deeply he is involved with this particular event, and what exactly his intentions are, can only be speculated. At the moment, his actions appear to be benefiting the people by exposing the corruption of the existing government – what he would do in the future is anybody’s guess.
One thing is certain – there must be some sort of check and balance to the politicians, a system which the people themselves can use when the interests of the government no longer mirror those of the people. The question then, is what kind of system needs to be formed, and how should it go about its activities?
Actually the system could be quite simple – a group that could organise people to hold demonstrations, marches or, simply, a general strike, would be enough to give pause to any government official. All that is really needed is a good grassroots movement, a number of people who are concerned enough to spend a day or two at a march. From this base would come others who disseminate information, who provide ideas and suggestions, who have transport, who know how to maintain order. And once the numbers build up to the thousands, people, not governments, will have control of their lives.
In Britain, this system appeared in the form of trade unions, which demanded for rises in living standards, minimum wages, etc. The legacy today is that when the government does something unpopular, the people have the power to hurt the government where it counts – in its pockets. When Margaret Thatcher introduced a poll tax, millions – literally millions – of people refused to pay – and this led to the tax being repealed. When Britain planned to invade Iraq, two million marched through London to protest. That is one out of every thirty British. Remarkable.
How soon will a movement like this form in Malaysia? Sadly, it appears that most Malaysians have not even contemplated the idea –the banning of trade unions, the University and University Colleges Act, the mainstream media and the education system have been carefully designed to discourage people from being active in politics, and even from learning about it – which has left the Malaysian grassroots charred and barren - until the BERSIH march.
I do not expect the current administration to conduct electoral reforms – judging from the responses by some of our leaders, it will not – nor do I expect Barisan Alternatif to make a flying leap into the Prime Minister’s office, nor even that the government will begin to make concessions to the people, or even that it will pretend to clean up its image. What I expect, and pray for, is that Malaysians of all skin colours will finally, finally shed their misgivings of race and apathy, and begin to get involved in the running of their own government. And maybe then, we shall finally see the birth of a truly democratic Malaysia.
Sunday, 11 November 2007
At 3pm on the 10th of November, thousands and thousands of people braved rain, riot police, tear gas, and chemical sprays in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to demonstrate for clean elections.
In an attempt to disrupt the demonstration, the government resorted to using underhanded tricks, up to and including:
Despite these, and more, tactics used by our leaders and their cronies, an estimated 40,000 people joined the march. The memorandum was handed to the DYMM Agong, and the crowds then dispersed peacefully.
However, this was not the end of the line for the government and their lackeys, for the police then began indiscriminately attacking and arresting demonstrators who were dispersing. At least 28 protesters were arrested, most of whom were subsequently released.
The government continued to abuse their rights and responsibilities as elected leaders of the people by playing down the demonstration in the Malaysian media, and failing to report at all the cases of unprovoked police brutality.
News clips from Al-Jazeera showing the unnecessary heavy-handedness of the police response.
Power to the People! Bangkitlah Bangsa Malaysia!
Friday, 9 November 2007
Read the details here:
Anonymous posts will not be tolerated, at least give yourselves nicknames so that I can separate one anonymous from another. Name-calling, foul language and the like will either be severely criticised or deleted from this blog.
I await your response.
Thursday, 8 November 2007
UPDATED THURSDAY 8th NOVEMBER
Apologies for there nto being much content in the above post, I felt that the video speaks volumes about what we need to do.
But to highlight a point, it is the PEOPLE who need to take back the streets. Politicians, even the real ones, can only do so much. Even if all of the opposition showed up, they wouldn't be able to shake things up enough.
When 2,000 marched in Putrajaya, it shook the very foundations of the government.
I can also honestly tell you that when the British government tried to close down a public hospital, twenty thousand showed up to protest - more than the population of the town itself.
Now I want you to come to your own conclusions here: if twenty thousand can show up to protest a hospital being closed in a random town, how many do you think should turn up to demand change in Malaysia, where someone got blown up with C4, police shot two unarmed civilians, petroleum will run out in 10 years and the politicians threaten the deaths of their own citizens?
Tuesday, 23 October 2007
Ladies and gents, apologies for the nonexistent post which I promised you last weekend, I am working on it and will (very very likely) update this by Wednesday.
Being very quick:
On Tuesday, I joined a hundred-strong protest against a white-supremacist party meeting in Nottingham.
We shut down the meeting.
UPDATED THURDSAY 25th OCTOBER:
I joined the Socialist Student's Society on week one of the course and thought nothing of it. I even missed the first meeting (not a very good start).
Then I got a text (we call them SMS) from one of the members - they were having a protest in Nottingham against a BNP meeting, and wanted me to come along.
When I came here, I had told myself that I wouldn't get involved in British politics, simply because I thought I had enough to deal with in Malaysia already. But I wanted also to learn about anything that could help Malaysia - and after the Burmese Monks' protest, as well as the Lawyers' March and the Batu Burok incident back home, I thought the biggest thing we needed was a damn good show of people power.
With that in mind, I packed up my stuff, and hopped on the bus to the Uni. Let me be honest: I did not know a thing about what was going on, except that there would be a protest in Nottingham, it was against the "British National Party" (I knew nothing about it) and that the bus leaves from the Students' Union at 5pm on Tuesday. I wondered if we would be back in time for a game of pool.
I plodded in the evening rain to the Union, where I met a few other like-minded students - Owain, a fellow 1st-year Medic; Andrew Zignani (Ziggy), a 2nd-year Historian; and Vicky, a 3rd-year English student and one of the brains behind the Socialist Students' Society. The man behind the entire thing was Steve, in his 40's.
We piled in the van and drove around for a bit to pick up some others - I was surprised that 8 others turned up, all in their 40s-50s. Due to bad traffic, we did not make it out of Leicester until around 6pm. We had some idle conversation, I learned that the BNP were basically an extreme right-wing party who wanted Indians, Muslims, Jews and non-whites in general kicked out of the country. They were meeting to plan their election move in Nottingham. Somehow in the middle of it, I managed to fall asleep. By the time we reached Nottingham it was 8pm, black as night, very cold, and rainy. There was some confusion as to where the meeting place was, and we drove aimlessly for a bit. I was wondering if this was such a good idea after all when we pulled into a car park.
Before stepping out, Steve told everyone to write down their names and telephone numbers - in case we were arrested. Then it hit me: this was serious.
We walked to the meeting place in the rain. I was already shivering because of the cold. I don't know what I was expecting as we walked into a little street. A gaggle of police were ready to greet us as we walked in. I nearly had a heart attack when one of them asked me to take off my hood.
The BNP meeting was being held in an otherwise unremarkable little building along a small street, but the first thing I saw as the dozen of us got closer was the crowd of protestors. They seemed to grow, so that when there were only around twenty from a distance, a hundred had materialised out of the night by the time we were face to face. Most of these weren't kids, they were in their 30s and 40s. Some were even balding.
We crossed the street to join the main group of protestors, right in front of the hall. A few BNP members skulked within, trying to stay hidden. The majority of them had not yet arrived for their meeting. The police were there too - four big fellows were standing in the garden, looking down at us. Another dozen or so moved along the street, checking for violence and trying to pinpoint potential troublemakers.
It's hard to describe, but when you realise that these people had family, had to go to work tomorrow, had to go home to cook dinner, had to take care of not catching cold, you feel strangely reassured, despite the rain and wind, the cold, the chanting, the frowns of BNP members, the police with their truncheons... These people all could have been doing other things - sipping a cup of tea, watching the latest football rerun, doing their ironing, filling out their mortgage forms... - but they were here instead.
I felt as if I was standing among giants.
Besides us and the police, the hooligans were out too, looking for a fight. They weren’t BNP, or protestors – they were locals with nothing to do, and nothing to stand for. They were content to shout obscenities at us from a distance, but to their credit the police cleared them away. I felt remarkably safe, considering that I was in the middle of a protest with police around me.
An elderly couple appeared down the street, and everything changed. The protestors started to jeer. Cries of “Nazi scum!” and “Racists!” filled the night. Some protestors tried forcibly to block the entrance, while the police formed a column and allowed the couple into the hall. A violent scuffle ensued. Threats were made and returned. As the couple disappeared into the building, one particularly violent protestor was hit in the head with a truncheon and arrested.
After calm was restored, we stood around in the rain again, feeling rather stupid, and made some attempts at conversation as we shivered underneath our rain jackets. I take my hat off to Vicky – she is a capable leader and is willing to stand for what she believes is right. I must say I am impressed by her commitment, and that of Owain, Ziggy, Steve, and the rest of the protestors who were with me that night. By then, it was 9pm. We were getting very cold, and hungry as well.
A few other BNP members showed up, trying to get into the hall, and we gave them the same treatment as we did the first few. The police finally decided not to force their way in, for the safety of both parties. A few suits tried to show up as well – and they weren’t too pleased that we were blocking their way. But they had no choice save to stay on their side of the street.
We had to stay put to make sure the meeting wasn’t going to work – and so we did. By the time we left it was 11pm. My bed appeared before me at midnight, and I collapsed after a long day.
That night, I won a personal victory for myself. But that’s not the end of it. The BNP are just a small right-wing party among a whole lot of larger right-wing parties out there, sowing hatred and dividing countries against each other. I may have played my part in evicting the BNP from Nottingham, but there are larger fish to fry as well.
But one thing I did learn is that the downfall of these parties lies not in the hands of the politicians, but in the hands of the men and women on the street, the ones who came out in force that night. To be completely honest, none of them would be out that night if someone else would do it for them. One of them told me “nobody else is doing it, that’s why I’m here.”
And that’s the other thing I learned: being concerned doesn’t mean you protest when everyone else protests, or speak about Earth’s problems but do nothing about them. It means you’re out there when you’re most needed, even if you don’t want to be. Which fool would want to stand in the rain for three hours if they had a choice? The answer: not a fool, but a hero would.
Wednesday, 10 October 2007
Blood Diamond by Edward Zwick (Movie)
A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, by Ishmael Beah (Book)
Again a very late one on my part, but one that I was compelled to write. To those who have neither watched the movie (probably impossible) nor read the book (likely all of you), please get them both, right now. Come back to me after you’ve thoroughly digested them.
There are a million different topics I could raise from both of these at the same time, but I think I’ll settle for the ‘big picture’ and leave aside the details for a bit.
The movie will have hammered home the fact that wars are being fought over diamonds, as well as ivory, gold, oil and the rest of the big ones, and that millions take part in the war without ever seeing the big picture. What the movie didn’t really explain in detail was what that big picture actually is.
Bluntly put, the big picture is that some people are greedy bastards. They will do anything and everything to earn your admiration, trust and respect, or more likely, your money. And they aren’t too bothered if what they do kills someone, or more than one someone.
Take all the smart badass characters from the movie and you’ll see that they generally know what’s going on – and they don’t give a damn what happens to anyone else in the way. They will throw people in the line of fire to get that piece of your money. They will champion causes that they themselves don't believe. They will start wars. They will turn son against father, tribe against tribe, nation against nation. They will use children, drug them with cocaine and marijuana, arm them to the teeth, and send them to die, simply to make sure they have an uninterrupted supply of goods.
Now once these people have gotten their diamonds/petrol/ivory or whatever, they will find a way for you to buy them. And given that they are willing to have entire countries destroyed for their trade, do you think they’d be too bothered about lying to you to make you buy them? Doubt it, mate. Blood diamonds, clean diamonds – they’re all diamonds, they all can be sold.
If I told you that behaviour control is so ingrained in humans as to be taken for granted, you may laugh. But think again, Newsweek ran a report (from http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/20427857/site/newsweek/) stating that big companies put lots of money into behaviour control marketing schemes – read the article and decide for yourself if you’re being manipulated. My point is, that if a cereal company, trading a completely clean item, is using behaviour control strategies to increase sales, what do you think diamond companies that traffic in blood diamonds are willing to do to make profits increase?
That, ladies and gentleman, is the big picture – people at all ends of the spectrum are being fooled into perpetuating a vicious cycle which benefits the ruthless and deprives the poor. If you bought a diamond – ask yourself whether someone could have been killed for it. Ask if an entire village was wiped out so that diamonds just like the one you want to buy could be sent off to be processed and labelled and you’ll see it doesn’t matter if that diamond specifically was a blood diamond. The entire trade has been corrupted by people who are willing to exploit, steal, kill.
The bigger picture? It’s not just diamonds that have spilt blood...Almost every trade in the world has backstabbing, murder and deciet written into it. All I'm asking you is to question your belief in society and its workings. It's up to you what you want to do with that knowledge.
Tuesday, 9 October 2007
I am absolutely not used to the weather here, it's great to be able to go out at noon without melting, but it sucks when the tiolet seat freezes my arse off at midnight. Food is okay but I'm already starting to miss our own char koay teow and if anyone can get durians through customs please send some for me.
People are great here, the medics are very smart and very driven, and they party as hard as they can. All of the fresher's week was spent on drink, dance and the rest, and after a few drinks everybody becomes your friend/techno dance partner for the night.
There is only one thing cheaper in the UK than it is in Malaysia, and that's tequila, vodka and bacardi. Sandwiches cost 2 ponds, shots cost 1.50. Drinking is normal, people drink more days than they don't, and the drinking boat was just insane. The committee (in charge of fresher's week) challenged the freshers (that's me) to drink faster than they could, each team lines up in a line and drinks down the line, whichever line finishes first wins. Whomever loses strips naked and runs around the field.
Guess what? We won. The committee takes off their clothes, the freshers take out their cameras. Heh heh heh.
Getting tipsy is not getting drunk (but a good sign that you will soon), it's when gravity starts to disagree with you. You lean to the left, and gravity makes you go waaaay to the left. That's when you stop drinking and start dancing.
Work-wise, they are starting to turn up the heat already, one poor girl collapsed in the dissecting room before they brought the body out, it was fine generally except when they lifted the chest out and bits fell out of it... I'll have to get used to that soon...
Am currently being treated for tonsilitis (sore throat) and am having a blood test for glandular fever (don't ask me, I'm not a doctor yet), so I'm laying off the parties for a bit. Socialism works very well here, As a student under 19 I get free medical treatment here. Wonder what it's like under the surface though.
Saw some pretty interesting moves from my breakdancing and streetdancing classes, but now I have a bad back after trying to repeat them. Will liekly get better after next week.
Anyways here are the links to our farewell party and my Leicester misadventures.
Thursday, 27 September 2007
So what ELSE have I been doing so far?
1. Learning English English, along with its brothers Cornish English, Scottish English, Indian English and Immigrant English
2. Trying to remember how to socialise with people.
3. Acquainting myself with the local superstore ASDA
4. Apparently, I dance well. (WTF? I've like danced 5 times in my life...)
5. Getting as near drunk as I dare in pyjamas (NO I'M NOT JOKING).
6. NOT updating my blog/friendster/facebook profiles.
Will keep you guys posted, but I'm damn exhausted right now and classes haven't even started proper.
Thursday, 6 September 2007
A short guitar and drums skit that which sums up the album quite thoroughly and gives the listener a taste of what to expect. In terms of content, this one opens the album on a grand note.
Quite a shocker, considering Wake’s grand tone and the subtle Leave Out all the Rest. This is LP’s foray into Industrial, and though it has very nice guitars it doesn’t quite live up to the intensity of a Nine Inch Nails tune, which the song will inevitably be compared against. Compared to the previous LP “angry” tunes it’s nothing too new, though it will please fans of the “harder” rock genres.
Leave Out all the Rest
This song has an excellent opening with near-perfect layering effects, but the chorus seems just a tad lacking in terms of vocals, which are very good throughout the rest of the song. I’d have happily labelled this the best song on the album if the chorus had just a bit more vocal oomph. The song is roughly on par with Numb, though Mike Shinoda’s additional vocals would be welcome to give it more flavour.
Bleed It Out
LP has definitely gotten it right in this song, at least in terms of the infectious energy. This song, with its catchy tune and lyrics to boot, makes the previous LP hit Faint seem amateurish. It stands out as one of the best songs on the album, with a very nice use of the hoedown beat/clap to make things even more energetic. It has been suggested that Shinoda has very subtly hidden a message in the lyrics – but even if you don’t agree, this is still an excellent song.
Shadow of the Day
A nice keyboard loop, though I think the beat could be improved. The song shows its true colours when the vocals start, and here the band’s development becomes clear – they’ve definitely grown up. It would be unthinkable for a song like this to show up on any of their previous albums, but I much welcome this refreshing change. LP has taken a page from U2’s book, and they’ve come out the better for it.
What I’ve Done
With a good guitar opening, the song can only get better when the vocals begin – Bennington does not let his fans down. The well-chosen lyrics are just another sign that LP is developing as a band, though many an old fan will lament Mike Sinoda and Joe Hahn being very muted in this particular song.
Hands Held High
If you could only listen to one song on the album, let it be this one! LP uses organ and drum effects as well as the choir bridge and ending to highlight the lyrics – which are amazingly poignant. Though Shinoda remains in the background throughout most of the album, he deservingly becomes the highlight of the band when he steps to the fore. This is an excellent song, and to date LP’s most important, even more so than the very poignant FRGT/10.
No More Sorrow
This is the hardest song on the album, and Metal fans will appreciate it. A very impressive guitar throughout, with decent drums – but the angst-laden and unsubtle lyrics pale in comparison set against the poignant and powerful Hands Held High, and as a result what political thunder it has simply gets stolen by Hands Held High.
This seems to be a throwback to My December, with some tweaks and refinements – certainly the lyrics and instruments are better thought-out and well-implemented, and the later twist keeps it unique from being lumped with other clichéd songs of the same style. Sandwiched between the extremely hard No More Sorrow and the rather meek In Between, it's easy to overlook.
This one starts off very promisingly, with good harmonies (though the vocals could be improved significantly) but peters out towards the second half of the song – simply put, there was just not enough content to keep it going, and a very awkward twist in the chorus to beef the song length up does it no justice either. Though I can empathise with the content, I cannot agree with an extra limb grafted onto the song to make it look whole.
This one turned out to be a surprisingly good song, considering the somewhat awkward beginning and rather hard-to-accept combination of instruments and vocals (I suspect they did this on purpose). Its guitar effects do it justice though. Though it will not be one of my favourites, it is definitely respectable in its own right.
The Little Things Give You Away
Deep, poignant and meaningful, especially with the great guitar solo by Phoenix and following voice effects – here, the song shines through as being a cut above the rest. They prove that a subtle and mature song is simply better than one where the artists descend into uncontrolled chaos.
Minutes to Midnight
Initially, the overall sound of the album was very hard to accept – especially for a diehard like me, after all who cannot resist comparing its songs to old greats like Somewhere I Belong, Crawling, and In the End? I was sceptical, especially after watching What I’ve Done on MTV – and prepared for the worst.
With a significantly muted rap and near-absent DJ effects, the album shocked me at first (my brain kept screaming “U2!”, “Evanescence!”, “Nine Inch Nails!”, “Nickelback!” throughout the first few songs and I wondered if the band was going through some sort of musical midlife crisis) – then Hands Held High turned up, I took a step back to rethink my original judgement, and everything was alright again.
Despite some awkward pace changes and the rather unfortunate In Between, LP continues to deliver. The change from teenage anger/confusion to political and social awareness is definitely a step in the right direction (and was hinted at somewhat in Reanimation’s FRGT/10 and Meteora’s Breaking the Habit), though it will leave some fans nostalgic for the nu-metal sound that LP pioneered. My chief gripe about the album is that Joe Hahn (a very important asset to the band) has not been given much precedence. Otherwise, it doesn’t get much better than this, with the band’s varied showing across the genre spectrum managing to stay “Linkin Park” while not becoming stale from repetition. This is not an album to miss.
Monday, 3 September 2007
In Ghostline's post M for Merdeka; V for Vendetta, I discussed a point which I found particularly disturbing: our education system. Reproduced below is part of my comment (with added color and bold font for emphasis):
"...Our government school systems have very successfully turned most of us into unquestioning workers. This bunch can be placated with shopping malls, government-controlled media and the threat of the I.S.A. The more intelligent ones are so bored by textbook history that they don’t ever want to read about politics again, or they just decide to emigrate.
And that’s just the way the government wants it - a middle class with a lower-class mindset. Easy to placate, easy to bully, easy to trick, easy to govern..."
Part of Ghostline's reply (also with added color and bold fonts):
"... at the Bangsa Malaysia gathering... Malik Imtiaz used a very good term, “de-education” to describe the way that the failed education system has robbed the people of the ability to think for themselves, which is partly why they blindly accept what the government tells them is good and true.
We are the stubborn few who refuse to submit to totalitarianism, but we need to reach out to the people if we want to achieve anything meaningful.
Apathy-ignorance is indeed our greatest enemy: I have great difficulty convincing even my close friends to do something..."
Taking this one step further, I want to highlight as a student the (likely deliberate) flaws in our present education system:
First, we put too little emphasis on critical thinking. Students are plied with near-endless quantities of homework that emphasise rote memorization and straightforward technique over conscious thought. Few students are able to question why something should happen, rather than what, how, where and when it happens.
Second, we are desensitized from current history by our history textbooks, which numb our senses with irrelevant and trivial details. How much significance does the coinage of Malacca bear to current geopolitical history? Students end up treating history more as a chore than an interest – and who can blame them? Combine that with our exam papers that simply ask us for facts and not reasons behind them, and it is no wonder that students do not care about history, much less attempt to question it.
Third, while history textbooks ply students with irrelevant details, they attempt to sidestep modern geopolitical history altogether. Practically every important event outside Malaysia in the past century is squeezed into a single chapter, almost as an afterthought. Students are left with little understanding of the relevant issues behind today’s global turmoil, and more often than not end up with a skewed understanding of history.
Fourth, the textbooks tell a one-sided tale of things, in terms of race. “Malay” history takes precedence, while the “Chinese” are at every attempt portrayed as money-faced tin miners, or even worse, gangsters. “Indians” are barely mentioned in the textbooks, and are portrayed along with the “Chinese” as immigrants and foreign labourers. How much does that do to endear the “Chinese” and “Indians” to the “bumiputeras”? How much does it encourage the “immigrants” to fight and die for their country?
Fifth, our textbooks conspicuously avoid explaining the words May 13, save to paint it as a nebulous “dark day in history”, the day when racial balance was upset. Throughout the textbook May 13th is used as a terrifying ‘bogeyman’ to scare off any notion of questioning the status quo, racial harmony or government action.
With an education policy like this, it is no wonder that our kids want to buy the first airplane ticket they can afford to Australia and New Zealand. Those who remain end up as desensitized worker-drones, unable to rid themselves from their chauvinistic cultural past, and uninterested in questioning or opposing government policy. The education system has done all too well in preventing free thought and preserving an otherwise transitory government system, but fails miserably in creating a flexible, useful future generation who might have otherwise made good and intelligent leaders for their country. Instead, we will see a growing class of people who are financially “middle class”, but mentally and politically unintelligent and immature.
All this after our current PM declared that education is the most important ministry in Malaysia. Yes, it is important – to keep us, the rakyat, cowed and under control. Now that I've said my piece, are you still willing to be kept under the yoke? Do you want to be subverted and used, never realising your full potential? Do you want to grow up just the way your government wants you to grow up - uninterested, uncaring, unintelligent?
Thursday, 30 August 2007
It is my pleasure to be here to deliver the keynote address at this Roundtable Discussion on National Unity and Development in Malaysia: Challenges and Prospects for Nation Building. I am always happy to take part in an event where there are many young informed Malaysians. I find that this is time well spent. Not only does it give me a chance to share my thoughts, but it also lets me do a bit of opinion research among the younger generation.
We like to say that our youth are the future of this country, but then we proceed to ignore or marginalise them. We want our future generations to be able to think and act wisely, but then we do not give them sufficient opportunities to do so.
In my view, this is not a good way to prepare those who will take our place. If the young are to be good leaders and citizens, they must be exposed to more than just abstract concepts. Even those nation states which have failed miserably have had great political ideals.
I believe that good and upright leadership must be demonstrated. It has to be both taught and observed at work. Then, those who are found to be able, must be mentored by those who are capable. In this way, success can be learned and replicated.
Finally, the young must be given responsibilities they can handle. They should be allowed to make mistakes along the way as part of their overall learning process. If we do these things, our actions will echo loudly into the future.
My address this morning is on the challenges and prospects of nation-building, a topic that is of the greatest and gravest importance. Nation-building is essential to national unity which lies at the heart of what this country was, is and will be.
With the passage of time, it seems that we are starting to forget this and it is imperative that we do not. In the time available, I hope to say enough to provide some fuel for the discussions to follow. It is my earnest wish that you will gain some further perspectives on the nature of nation- building and that you will also deliberate on specific actionable ways to further it in this country.
Confucius insisted that language must be properly used if things are to get done, if justice is not to go astray, and if people are not to “stand about in helpless confusion”. He disapproved of those who misused words to hide their true intentions and actions.
So what exactly is nation-building? Not surprisingly, there are many definitions, some which differ by a little and others by quite a lot. In his book, The Making of a Nation, for example, Prof Cheah Boon Kheng defined it as “both economic progress and socio-political integration of a nation, that is prosperity and national unity”.
This captures what are hopefully the two end-results of nation building, but it makes no mention of its nature and process. I prefer the more common understanding, which is that it is the use of state power across different dimensions to ensure that a country is politically stable and viable in the long term. These dimensions include ethnicity and religion.
As a brief footnote, it should be noted that nation-building is a heated and even hated notion in some parts of the world. The main reasons for this are, first, that it is taking place in the midst of great domestic turmoil and, second, that it is primarily initiated and managed by foreign powers.
Trying to cobble a functioning state by papering over deep social and political rifts is, of course, easier said than done. History has shown us, time and again, that it is much easier to break down, rather than build up, nations.
In the case of Malaysia, nation- building has occurred in generally peaceful circumstances. It was not imposed by another country. And it is undertaken mainly by collective choice rather than compulsion.
The fact that we have been able to forge a nation without resorting to the rule of the gun has made us something of a rarity and a case to be studied, if not emulated. It has allowed a relatively effective system of governance to develop. Our track record in development and resolving problems such as illiteracy, poverty and poor health has been good.
There is, of course, much more that can be done. Our institutions of governance are far from perfect and quality improvements will probably occupy us for at least the next 50 years, if not longer. Nevertheless, for all the criticisms that have been made, it is only common sense that we could not have survived, let alone prosper, these last 50 years if government institutions had not been responsive or effective.
So, what are the central challenges to nation-building going forward? Let me speak first more generally about the world, and then move specifically to Malaysia.
To my mind, there are many challenges, but one that stands out most is that of having to balance the need for change with that of continuity.
Globalisation, in particular, has unleashed sweeping economic, political, social and cultural transformations that have weakened national institutions, values and norms. It is as if all the boats on the ocean had suddenly lost their anchors, rudders and compasses overnight.
Naturally, this has produced a strong reaction in the form of a desire to preserve identity, character and tradition. These are among the strongest motivations known to mankind and have been at the foreground or background of practically every conflict that has ever been waged. Add to this, a deep sense of deprivation, powerlessness and injustice, both real and imagined, and the tension between change and continuity mounts greatly.
Managing change on a national level is never easy, and certainly not on the scale and speed that we are witnessing. Multi-ethnic countries have to be especially watchful, and particularly if they have a weak sense of national collective identity.
In the absence of a strong binding nationalism, they are prone to polarisation and competition along ethno-religious lines. The state, which may well start out by being a relatively honest broker, can become increasingly pressured to act in ways that favour the interests of one group over another.
If the pendulum swings too far in one direction, dissatisfaction and frustrations will inevitably result. These can be expressed in ways that range from passive non-cooperation to active opposition and even violent conflict. To a large extent, this has led to the fragmentation of states.
Countries need to recognise the larger macro forces at work and understand their implications. They have to engage creatively to ensure that there are sufficient investments in social capital and cohesion. They must create and capitalise on cooperative systems within societies.
In recent times, it has become usual to try and place the blame for the disintegrating state of world affairs on the doorstep of religion. This is a misunderstanding of the first order. Religion is not the cause of societal dystrophy; it is the antidote. It is a social stabiliser that allows believers to reconnect to values that are fast being lost in today’s ever more materialistic and self-centred world.
What does Malaysia have to do to ensure that it continues to be successful at nation-building? Psychologists say that our short-term memory can only hold seven items. Let me outline seven guidelines that I think will have to be borne in mind in future nation-building efforts.
First, Malaysians of all races, religions, and geographic locations need to believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that they have a place under the Malaysian sun. Only when each citizen believes that he or she has a common home and is working towards a common destiny, will he or she make the sacrifices needed for the long haul.
In Malaysia, the Federal Constitution, the Rukun Negara and Vision 2020 encapsulate the rights, hopes and aspirations of the population in a way that no other documents do. The integrity of these documents must be defended and promoted, especially the first.
Second, when we seek solutions to problems in nation-building, we must be careful not to assume away problems. Nation- building is required precisely because there are stark differences within society. If we all walked, talked and thought the same, it would probably not be needed.
There will therefore be chauvinistic groups in this country, just as there are in others. They will fight the idea of national unity, block social change and try to be politically dominant. The existence of these groups, however, does not mean that nation-building is a futile exercise.
It does mean that we must be prepared to negotiate our way through and around these differences. We can, for example, create social movements that aim to enlighten and dissuade popular support being given to them.
Third, nation-building requires accommodation and compromise. In our haste to be prescriptive, we should not be so idealistic that we are incapable of also being practical. We should not allow perfection to be the enemy of the good. Yes, we should seek the best solutions and expect the highest standards of performance.
But we should also be prepared to sacrifice some part of our positions for the good of the whole. The virtues of pure self-interest are largely a myth. What seems to be a reality is that individuals end up worse off when they act out of self-interest, as opposed to acting in their collective group interests.
Fourth, if nation-building is to be successful, enforced solutions must be avoided. Nation-building is effectively rendered null and void by coercion or the threat of violence. Might cannot, and must not, be shown to be right. If solutions cannot be found within the political and social structures, there will be a strong temptation to resort to illegitimate ways and means.
Fifth, nation-building occurs when society is open, tolerant and forward-looking. So important are these values that they are embedded in Vision 2020’s nine strategic challenges, as are those of mature democracy, caring society and innovation. Only by being inclusive and participative can the various sectors of our society be productively engaged. It follows that all forms of extremism, chauvinism, racism and isolationism must be guarded against. They must be soundly sanctioned socially, politically and, if necessary, also legally.
Sixth, nation-building is a process rather than an outcome. When Malaysia started off 50 years ago, there were no examples to study. There were no manuals to follow. Mistakes were made and, to a greater or lesser extent, lessons have been learned.
While a sense of impatience is perhaps fully understandable, nation-building takes place over a period of time and only with persistence. Where there is no trust, trust has to be built. Where there is no cooperative network, one has to be established. Building on layers of foundation is the only way to ensure that the process is solid and sustainable.
Seventh, the political, social and economic incentives must reward good behaviour and penalise bad. I know that this statement is virtually self-evident, but it is a fact that many countries are as likely to punish good behaviour as to reward it. After all, if there are benefits for corruption, then there is a real cost to being honest. The incentives for building up a nation must be greater and more compelling than breaking it down. The price of racial and cultural intolerance must be made prohibitively high.
I believe fostering national unity is the responsibility of every Malaysian. However, schools, institutions of higher learning and sports centres have a very special role to play. This is because the sense of national unity is best inculcated in the young.
Through textbooks, sports and interaction, educators should eliminate ethnic stereotypes. Through the imaginative teaching of the history of Islamic, Chinese and Indian civilisation, educators could foster greater understanding among different ethnic groups.
It is said that it takes a village to raise a child. I believe this is true. To me, the village comprises three main institutions - family, school and community.
From birth, we should be taught to respect and honour each other’s culture and heritage. Learning to interact with others is part of this process. Playing with children of other races on the playground and in friends’ homes, we learn to go beyond the colour lines early in life. In school we should be taught about other cultures and beliefs under the same roof as others of different ethnic groups - once again cutting through the colour lines.
I am aware that there are many Malaysians who are deeply troubled at the state of national unity in this country. What I have tried to do today is disabuse you of the notion that there are any “quick fix” solutions in nation-building.
If you look closely enough at any country, even those that are regarded today as highly successful, such as Japan, you will find there have been episodes in their past where events were very tenuous.
I hope we will do our best to guard against cynicism and hopelessness. And I hope we will all stay the course. Failure, may I remind you all, is a costly option.
Raja Nazrin Shah
Crown Prince of Perak
I’ve been taking my time over this particular post, simply because I find it particularly hard to write. Then again I believe this is a tale worth telling, so here I go anyway. Just after we finished the Maliau Basin Trip in Sabah, dad and I were in Tawau licking our wounds. As recommended by our fellow trekker Mr Chung we went to a massage parlour near the hotel.
Let’s set the scene: Standard Chinese massage parlour, with dad and me occupying the same cubicle, separated by a curtain. Dad got a pretty young Chinese lady from China, while my masseur was a young Indonesian girl, the kind of girl who would be a maid back in West Malaysia. If you’ve been to one, you’ll know that it’s nothing seedy. If you haven’t, let me repeat: it’s nothing seedy.
The session begins, and the Chinese lady starts by asking whether dad wants any special lotion, and describes its extremely useful qualities to the extent that a professional advertiser would seethe with envy. When dad says no, she then asks whether he wants a traditional Chinese foot massage, then a traditional back rub, and so on and so forth, all for an extra premium of course. When most of these attempts fail, she claims the time she needs to do the complete massage was longer than expected, and proceeds to charge him double. Meantime, my masseur simply begins a standard massage, without attempting to sell any of the extra massage products that the Chinese lady was so vigorously promoting.
With half a brain acting as translator between dad and the Chinese lady, I used my other half to talk to the Indon girl. She hails from a tiny village in Kalimantan, and crosses the border to find a decent job. Initially she works at a restaurant, but then realizes that she doesn’t earn enough to support her family. Soon enough, she enters the massage trade, without the knowledge of her family members – they think it’s unclean and dishonourable.
I asked for her view on the whole “massage parlours are unclean” business. She put it simply: if the masseur doesn’t do anything funny, then why should it be considered unclean? After all, she isn’t prostituting herself. Far from it, she makes wannabe hikers like us feel at least a little better after we go on near-suicide runs into jungles.
This struck me, because I realized that the unassuming young girl who was causing me a good amount of pain was actually a noble and capable lady, and a far better person than the one massaging my dad, who left a bad taste in my mouth as she spewed out endless advertisements.This Indon lady, on the other hand, decided to risk the wrath of her family to improve their lives, even though she knew they would at best frown upon her job, or more likely, disown her.
The lady had also seen beyond the veil that her own society placed on her – that the massage trade is unclean – and realizes that though not glamorous, it is noble. In fact, I’d say it’s even nobler than being a doctor or nurse, because there is no reward. A doctor will be rewarded with respect, admiration and decent salary. This girl will get none of that.
Lady, I know you’re not reading this because you don’t have computer access and probably can’t read English. But I take my hat off to you. I really do. And if it means anything to you, I think you're a stronger person than I'll ever be.
Get up out of bed today,
In my head since yesterday -
Voices call to me:
Do something for humanity.
Shake them, violently
If need be, out of the fantasy
That we call reality,
That so few recognize to be
The beginning of the end
Of the final descent
Into a human wasteland –
Money becomes command.
The strong get to say to
The weak: “Hey you,
Buy my product!
It’ll bring you luck;
It’ll make you belong,
Else you won’t last long.
Out there in the cold,
You’ll die before you’re old.
No money, no problem.
That ain’t the end -
Just lend me your soul –
I’ll keep it for you...”
I often wonder why Gerakan decided to join Barisan National (BN) after it had done so well in the 1969 elections. Then again I suspect if it hadn't, the May 13 riots would probably have been far, far worse.
However, now that Gerakan HAS joined BN, I don't seem to hear any news of it in the papers or on TV. Even when MCA made a cursory move to defend Namewee, Gerakan remained deafeningly silent. In fact, the rest of BN besides the MCA seem to be completely cowed by UMNO (and MCA is not that much better). Meantime, Gerakan's composition now is largely Chinese, to the point that sometimes it seems to be a very slightly more secular version of MCA.
As far as I can see, once a party joins BN it becomes not much more than an UMNO-entity, though why or how on earth that happens I cannot myself tell. Basically, this means that if a party intends to maintain its own ideology, it must remain outside of BN, period.
Some person expressed the view that a completely secular (e.g. non-communal, non-race orientated) party should be formed, my guess is that it would have to face a lot of pressure to obtain the number of voters it needs in any election - on the one hand, there are the Malays, who want their rights protected. On the other, there are the Chinese who feel that Malay rights are depriving them of opportunities they deserve. A hundred different groups - the educated, the farmers, the different races, the businessmen, and others - lie scattered in between. Finding a policy that can woo voters of all walks of life is at best difficult, and at worst Mission: Impossible.
The Labour Party, Gerakan, IMP and others all started as secular parties, but were drawn into communal politics to obtain votes. To counter this any new party would need to have a completely secular leadership, and a fairly balanced ratio of members - otherwise it would be forced into communalism. In the meantime, safeguards must be in place to ensure members aren't infiltrated by racists (read inciters and those who would benefit from the party being forced into communalism). How the party achieves that remains to be seen.
Personally, I believe that education is part of the solution, with the current national schools being the template. To improve racial relations, students would be grouped into classes with roughly balanced ratios of race. To appease non-Malays, additional language classes in these subjects could be taught in after-school sessions for those interested.
The problem is that the Chinese and Indians are stubbornly refusing to leave their old educational centres in favour of a more united system, and the Malays are none too keen to encourage the Chinese to do so. This leaves nationally-educated Chinese and Indians volatile and more easily incited into responding to racist comments, which plays into the hands of BN. BN can then use the race card to divide voters into "Malay" and "Chinese", and naturally the rural "Malays" who have little access to non-government controlled news end up voting for BN, its 'saviour'.
Sunday, 26 August 2007
Thursday, 16 August 2007
How many good friends of other races do you have?
When was the last time you talked to them?
Is it easy for you to talk to someone you don't know who is of a different race?
When did you last catch yourself swearing "stupid Indian/Malay/Chinese!!!#"?
Do you plan to become a citizen of a different country the moment you can?
Do you plan to bring your mother/father/siblings/extended family/dog with you?
If 'YES' to the above, how do you feel about the people who may never get the chance to leave this country for a more 'equal' one?
Would you die for your country?
If 'NO', how much much would you be wiling to sacrifice for your country?
Do you favor unity, or would you rather keep your children separated from children of other races by placing them in non-national schools?
Are you Chinese, Dayak, Indian, Serani, Bugis, Kadazan, Iban, Malay?
...Or are you MALAYSIAN?
Before we point fingers at everyone else, let's have a good look at ourselves first.
Happy Merdeka, Malaysia.
Thursday, 19 July 2007
Now, continuing on from my last post aboutthe Corporate Mechanism (which you must read to understand this), market dominance and controlling consumer tastes, let’s go back to Ah Keat’s set of advertisements.
You will remember that Ah Keat, after attempting to increase the productivity of his company (Fashion Belts Inc.) by forcing his employees to work harder and longer for less pay, has found an edge over Colin’s company (Fancy Belts Pvt. Ltd.) in advertising his products. In the process, he has to increase the price of his goods (Fashion Belt) to pay for the extra cost of his advertising campaign.
Initially, Ah Keat advertised Fashion Belts as a luxury item for parties. He attracts only partygoers to buy his belts, but other consumers are not interested – his initial aim is to wrest control of the existing fashion market from Colin. But Ah Keat cannot afford to advertise to only a small group of people, because advertisements cost money, and the market simply isn’t big enough for him to earn back that amount. Ah Keat’s first round of advertisements does not work quite as well as he would like, so he tries something else, and starts to bring in movie stars and singers to say how cool these belts are.
Ah Keat soon realizes that after this new set of advertisements, the total sales of his and Colin’s companies has increased –Ah Kiet’s piece of the pie is smaller than before Colin came along, but the market as a whole has expanded.
How on earth did Ah Keat’s advertisements increase the market? He hires a consultant to figure out why. The consultant, after some research, tells Ah Keat that people actually want to feel like the people in the advertisements – that is, they believe wearing these belts makes them feel like movie stars, singers and the lot, so they buy them to feel cool, and as a result the market gets bigger. Ah Keat is rubbing his hands in delight – he can make the market grow by advertising, and a larger market means more earnings. He realizes also that whoever controls the market has more to earn than ever before.
It comes to a point where virtually everyone in the city has a Fashion Belt, and there is nobody else to sell to. Will Ah Keat be a victim of his own success? But Ah Keat is a sly one. He comes up with a new belt called Fashion Belt X, and sells it as the hipper, trendier and better version of Fashion Belt. But before releasing the product to the city, h unleashes another wave of advertisements to announce its arrival – and people go crazy in anticipation. Now they are being told that a Fashion Belt is not enough to feel cool at a party – the Fashion Belt X is even better! As the product hits the market, people flock to Ah Keat’s stores to buy up even more of the product, which turns out to be a cooler, better-designed version of Fashion Belt (exactly as had been promised) – and they lap it all up. Even the people who already have the old generation of Fashion Belt are compelled to buy ‘the X’ as it is soon labelled, because it’s simply too cool to ignore!
After the initial craze, as people are beginning to get comfortable in their new belts and have just locked up, thrown out or given away the old ones, Ah Keat floods the market with his next big hit – Fashion Belt Summer Season, and the hype begins all over again. Of course, Ah Keat makes big bucks while his workers struggle to pay their electricity bill, and his buyers are forced to pay extravagant prices for goods that are actually cheap to make.
Impossible, you say? Well, look around you. Have you ever been excited about the next new item of clothing or piece of technology to hit the market? Have you gone out of your way to buy these products, thinking that it would make you feel better? Has it really made you feel better? Or has it deprived you of hard-earned money, money that you could have used for something else, like paying for your college education, or having extra tuition classes, or even giving a few dollars to the beggar down the street?
I’m not telling you not to buy the next new product on the market. By all means, buy it – if you believe it is genuinely useful to you. Otherwise, why are you wasting money on something that looks slightly different from another, and has the same function as a cheaper good?
Don’t be a fool for these things. Don’t let yourself be manipulated by businesspeople like Ah Keat, who care only about money. Spend your money wisely, in a way that makes it worth the sweat shed to earn it.